Challenges Facing Muslim Families in the US
We often dream after completing our education to get happily married and build a strong, loving Muslim family.
However, the reality often hits us with many new challenges, especially if we choose to build this family in a non-Muslim country.
Muslim Families living in the US are often faced with many challenges, both “within the Muslim-community” and in dealing with the “outside Muslim-community.”
The Muslim community in many parts of the US is still battling establishment; this is often apparent in the quantity and quality of Islamic activities provided both for the adults and their offspring and in the oftentimes ethnic grouping, leaving many outside the community or being involved but experiencing isolated feelings.
On the other hand, a major challenge facing Muslim families in dealing with the outside Muslim-community is maintaining Islamic values in the face of various un-Islamic ones and fighting for the right to abide by them without being mocked or detained from freely expressing them.
Muslim families living in the US are often worried about maintaining their religiosity and moving on their Islamic heritage to their offspring
I am not calling for a disintegration of US Muslim Families from the non-Muslim society, but however, they would still need an organized, interesting “substitute” to turn to in order to create a balance in their lives. The mosquesand Islamic weekend/daily schools should carry the burden of filling in this gap. Unfortunately, at times they do not live up to the Muslim families’ expectations and they may face problematic issues as a result.
Iman El Saha from California, mother of Yusuf age 31, and Mariam age 30, shares her thoughts on this issue:
“I would say that at this time in my life, when my children are older, I find a lack of support programs in my Muslim community for my age group, and at times I feel quite isolated because of that! The city I live in has classes for Senior citizens, but I don’t feel comfortable going to an exercise class that is mixed. I wish we had programs in our mosques for Muslim seniors. Another issue is that many young people of marriageable age are having difficulty finding compatible spouses. I feel the programs in our communities are geared towards younger families, with young children, while young adults and seniors are left out.”
|Practicing Muslims face problems in marriage, the majority of kids grow up in Islamic segregated schools|
Akram Hassanien, father of 3 year-old Mariam; lives in Texas.
He, on the other hand, is concerned that the mosques might be diminishing their roles as house of worshipin this process:
“Parents have to convince their kids to go to the mosque, where it becomes a center not just for prayers and religious activities, but it becomes a place for kids to go to school, play basketball, hang out with friends, attend lectures, etc., which eventually changes the concept of mosque for the second generations and make them forget about it as a place for prayers.”
Like Iman, he also finds complications in the marital process in the US:
“Practicing Muslims face problems in marriage, the majority of kids grow up in Islamic segregated schools, and most of the times when they deal with people from the opposite sex, they’re mostly Non-Muslims. So when they grow up to the age of marriage they don’t know many Muslims who can qualify for marriage, and that’s why arranged marriage is very popular in the US. In addition to the huge size of the US as a country, men seeking marriage might have to travel all over the country to meet different candidates, which is a very costly and hectic process. Also, many end up in bad marriages because of this.”
Another problem faced by Muslim families within their Muslim community, especially by converts, is being accepted by other Muslims in an ethnically diverse community. Although, in front of God, ethnicity has no basis in our equality as Muslims; however on earth, some Muslims still seem to live it, classifying this or that ethnic group as being better Muslims than the rest.
A Muslim convert residing in Texas found this notion very disturbing and describes how:
“The Arab sisters have their own groups, and the Pakistani sisters have their own groups, so we belong nowhere, we end up with our husbands’ groups, but for the sisters who did not get married yet, it is really so hard.”
Living Islam with Non-Muslims in the US:
Muslim families living in the US are often worried about maintaining their religiosity and moving on their Islamic heritage to their offspring. Whether at work, school or in their daily encounters with the American society, challenging situations often arise and Muslims are left with the choice of either “going with the flow” or standing up for their rights to practice their religion freely.
This dilemma is often increased if the family has converted to Islam (or if one of the parents is a convert), as they often have to deal with a lot of pressure from their non-Muslim parents and relatives as well.
Joanna Traczewska is a Muslim convert residing in Texas. She grew up in the States to Polish parents. A mother of three kids (Aya age 9, Yousra age 7 and Asim age 4) she is often faced with the aforementioned challenges:
“My main challenge is learning to read Quran, followed by my non-Muslim family constantly condemning my new way of life. It is very difficult for me to discuss Islam with them. Not having enough literature in their native language makes it harder.”
“As a family, we are faced with education issues in this country. My children were attending a public school. This year Aya, my oldest daughter is in 4th grade, where the students are required to dance, sing and play an instrument in Music Class in the public school system. Aya did not want to participate in the class being an obedient Muslim girl. We contacted the school’s authorities including the district’s Executive Director requesting that both of our daughters be excused from attending the class. They refused so we provided a letter from local Imam clearly stating that it is against our religion for us to participate in such activity.
We also contacted CAIR hoping they would help. We learned that other schools in the area were very cooperative and let their Muslim students use the library for the duration of the music class. Later we learned that it is really up to the principal, and that’s the law. The principal of my daughters’ school refused to meet out demands. So much for the freedom of religion… At the end we transferred our children to an Islamic school where they are no longer intimidated or pushed to do anything against their will, alhamdulillah.”
Akram Hassanien also faces a number of challenges in dealing with the outside non-Muslim community. He summarizes them as follows:
“Muslims are part of the American society as a whole, but yet, they are not able to fully blend-in as Non-Muslim Asians, Indians, Latinos, etc. We work with Americans, we go to school with them, we send our kids to same schools, but still we cannot adopt the same American life in terms of dressing, eating, language, inter-mingling, financial transactions and many more things majority of American Muslims won’t be able to adopt ever.
– Finding a place to pray at work is a challenge.
– Making wudu (ablution) at work is a challenge where you don’t want to make the bathroom messy and leave a bad impression.
– Finding suitable food for lunch at work is a challenge. You are never sure how it is cooked and cross-contamination etc.
– Praying in the street when you’re stuck outside and need to catch a prayer.
– Mortgage and financial transactions especially when it comes to buying houses or cars. Even the Islamic financial institutes possess suspicious transactions.
|Both my husband and I were committed to raising good Muslim human beings, who will make a difference in the world we live in.|
On the other hand, Iman El-Saha feels that she has not encountered too many problems:
“Because I was born here, and spent a portion of my childhood here, Alhamdullillah, I believe I was better equipped than many immigrant families to raise my children in the US. My children attended public schools, and faced challenges when it came to holidays and celebrations such as Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas. I always excused them from school during these times, but also provided them with alternatives for having fun, such as going to the children’s Discovery Museum or a similar outing.
Alhamdulliah, Yusuf, and Mariam never felt left out or deprived, as I always explained that we have our own celebrations, and it is ok to be different! We always made a big fuss about Eid, with decorations, gifts, and outings! To this day we still celebrate Eid in a big way even though our children are adults now! I also took the time to share Eid celebrations with my children’s classmates, with a small talk, and taking food such as “baklawa” (sweet pastry) to share! We also took the children to Islamic Sunday school to help instill a sense of belonging, and pride in our faith.
Both my husband and I were committed to raising good Muslim human beings, who will make a difference in the world we live in, in doing so we had to be very selective of our friends, and that may have meant that at times we were isolated, and lonely. However, in the long run I feel we did the right thing alhamdulliah. I pray our efforts are accepted by Allah.”
In order that the Muslim families in the US are able to face their challenges, more change needs to be accomplished both within the Muslim community and outside the Muslim community.
The mosques and Islamic weekend/daily schools need to provide better quality and quantity activities to their communities and in doing so reaching out to all groups, with no stereotyping on the basis of age, gender or ethnicity. More awareness programs need to be given to Muslims on treating each other equally and tolerating each other’s ethnicities.
Converts need more support from the community and more programs, like how to gain more knowledge about Islam and advice on how to deal with their non-Muslim families whether it be in their disdain or in celebrating major holidays with them.
More organized marital programs need to be established to facilitate marriage, like specific “espousal” events in which parents with their eligible daughters/sons could meet together with other parents with their eligible daughters/sons in a harmonious and Islamically appropriate atmosphere.
The outside non-Muslim community needs to learn more about Islam so as to understand the different practices performed by Muslims and better tolerate them. Both the mosquesand Muslim individuals need to reach out more to non-Muslims and explain Islam.
A happy Muslim family in the US could indeed be achieved with Allah’s will and is not just an American dream.
By Suzana Nabil Saad